How to learn a language?

I’m somewhat fluent in 3 languages, Spanish, English and Japanese. When people learn this fact about me I often get asked how I managed to learn those 3 languages. 
People assume that I should be smart because I’m trilingual but the truth is that I am not smart at all, in school I barely passed my classes and I take for ever to understand any kind of concept.
But even someone as average-brained as me could learn a language and that was possible only with constant repetition. Because anybody can learn anything as long as you repeat it enough times. That being said I do have a few things that I do when I learn a new language that help me learn faster.
These are some of the methods I use when learning languages.

Increase your vocabulary

When learning a new language, everywhere I went I used to carry a little notebook in which I wrote down a list of words I didn’t know and their translation. I would write down between 5 – 10 words with the respective translation and repeat them until I memorized them. But the important thing is to only write the amount of words that you can learn that day.

For example, the first day I would write 5 words and memorize them, the next day another 5 words and memorize the new words plus review the ones from the prior day. It would add up so that in 3 days I would have to learn and review 15 words, in 10 days 50 words and keep going like that until I knew all the words by heart. And only until I knew the words by heart I would stop reviewing. It is a lot of work and takes a lot of patience and perseverance.

They say that for most languages if you learn about 10,000 words you can speak it pretty much fluently. A year has 365 days so if you learn about 9 words per day you would be fluent in about 3 years. If you keep at it, the results will definitely come eventually it just takes time.
In my case, when I was learning English I was able to more or less understand native speakers in about a year. By the second year I was able to communicate what I wanted to say and be mostly understood. But it wasn’t until the third year that I had more confidence and was able to understand and speak almost without any problem. Learning Japanese also took me about 3 – 4 years to reach a fluent level.

Watch movies

Choose to watch movies or TV series in whatever language you want to learn, that is the number one thing that helped me with vocabulary and hearing. You must put both the audio and subtitles in the language you want to learn or else there’s no point. At the beginning you probably won’t understand a thing but precisely because of that this is a great opportunity to increase your vocabulary list. 
Pause the movie whenever there is a word that you don’t understand and keep a bilingual dictionary handy to look up those words you don’t know. At the beginning you probably will pause your movie every 2 seconds and it will take you days or even weeks to finish watching one single movie but you will see that after a while you will start recognizing the words that you looked up. Little by little, you will be able to hear those particular words from the unrecognizable mumble that is a new language. Being able to recognize words in a language you don’t understand is a major breakthrough.
Only one piece of advice though, try to keep your movie choices within the realm of reality to get a vocabulary that you can actually use in real life. Even though marvel movies are so entertaining knowing how to say “Ragnarok” in Japanese won’t be too useful in normal conversations.

Forget grammar!

I feel like this may be potentially terrible advice but honestly to me grammar is deadly boring and I can never get my head around those complicated and endless grammar rules. Instead of learning rules, I learn useful phrases and sentences.
For example:

“tengo un lapiz” means “I have a pen” in Spanish.

Instead, of asking the endless questions about grammar and why use this pronoun and not the other one, or how to conjugate the verb or whatever, I just simply learn that if I want to say “I have a pen” in Spanish, I just have to say “Tengo un lapiz”. 
Simple and easy memorizing and with this method the grammar kind of naturally comes to me eventually after seeing the patterns in other similar sentences. 
Plus, if you learn one sentence pattern, you can use it to make other sentences by simply changing a word. For example, in the example above just change the word “pen” with other words. For instance, “Tengo un perro” to say “I have a dog”. 

Download an app.

Nowadays, you can pretty much learn a language for free thanks to all the free apps available out there. I personally use Duolingo. It’s free and it is pretty good. Duolingo divides the lessons into levels so you can see yourself gradually going up and there is plenty of vocabulary and useful phrases that you can grab.
It is the best option for those who want to learn a language but don’t have the time or money to go to a language school.

Practice with native speakers.

It takes a lot of balls to go and speak a language that you are learning with a native speaker. You are probably going to worry that they won’t understand what you are trying to say, or that whatever you say will sound stupid. But, as hard as it is, speaking is the only way you will improve. 
When I was learning Japanese I once made a really embarrassing mistake at work…in Japanese the words for “close” and “crush” are kind of similar, “tsuburu (close)” and “tsubusu (crush)”. Too similar.
My job was to take their medical history of patients and inform my boss so that he could do the proper acupuncture treatment. And I had this particular patient told me that whenever she closed “tsuburu” her eyes she would get dizzy. When I repeated it back to my boss however, I said “tsubusu”. I basically told him that when the patients eyes were crushed she got dizzy.
Of course, she would get dizzy! Getting dizzy is the least of someone’s problems when their eyes are being crushed! 
This is only one out of a million embarrassing stories I have from when I was learning Japanese and English, the point is you have to go through them and learn from your mistakes, I bet everyone has stories like this.

Anyways, if learning a language was easy and quick everyone in the world would be multi-lingual but unfortunately, there is no easy, quick way. It takes a lot of effort and perseverance. But the important thing is to not let yourself get discouraged because you are learning slowly. That is how it’s supposed to be, just keep studying little by little every day. Be patient and with perseverance eventually you will learn a new language. 
Good luck


Multilingual acupuncturist travelling the world